While reading William Dougherty’s article “Bromides” (XXIV/1) about the reluctance that physicians exhibit in speaking frankly about their patients’ life-threatening conditions, using euphemisms and circumlocutions, I remembered an experience I had that illustrates his point exquisitely.
I was riding in a hospital elevator on my way to visit someone when several interns got on and started discussing various patients.
“What does Mr. Jones have?” asked one.
“The big C,” said another. All nodded in silence.
“What happened to Mr. Brown?”
“He was discharged.”
“What happened to Mrs. White?” Another moment of silence, and then one of them said “Tenth floor.”
They all nodded and left the elevator. I stood and puzzled for a few minutes, and then I suddenly realized–the hospital had nine floors.
Jackson, New Jersey
“Everybody took their books home.” You may say this sloppy sentence every day–and get used to it. But I won’t!
I still plan to structure my sentences so that a plural pronoun will be grammatically correct, and I will expect those whose works I read to do the same. Those who persist in this error will receive SPELL “goof cards.” SPELL, for those that don’t know, is the Society for the Preservation of English Language and Literature.
Ms. Editor, repeat this sentence several times a day: “They all took their books home.”
Julia P. Edwards
Goldsboro, North Carolina
I have been waiting (and hoping) for years for an attack on the unspeakable “up until,” so I welcome Dr. Finkel’s exposure, together with the other “up” horrors. Recently I noticed that a motorist “parked up” his car.
Perhaps other readers have noticed another word that should be “put down”–”fulsome.” Currently it has been so mis-used that it is useless. When I saw, in cold print, “a fulsome breakfast,” I gave up.
Could it be that “The LeaVING Room” [see XXIV/2 letter from Milton Horowitz–Ed.] was originally “The Living Room” and became corrupted? “Living Room” used to be quite common here, but now less so, having given way to “Lounge.”
Dr. Finkel urges us to eschew “up” in myriad contexts (XXIV/2). I can tell by his text that he’s upset!
Adam G. N. Moore, MD
Newmarket, New Hampshire
Two articles in the latest Verbatim (XXIV/2) “Assing Around” and “Racing for Definitions in South Africa,” tempted me to pass on an old South African quip:
An American tourist, visiting a small village, met Van der Merwe, the butt of many jokes about Afrikaners, and said, “Say, fellow, this really is the ass-end of the world, isn’t it?” Whereupon Van der Merwe answered him with, “Yes, and you are just passing through.”
Jim M. Pols
Jessy Randall and Wendy Woloson (“Assing Around, XXIV/2) mya be interested in an additional use of the word. In poolrooms in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, New York, around 1950, assy meant ‘lucky,’ as in sinking a lucky shot. I don’t know why.
Harvey E. Finkel
I have a comment to make concerning Bill Simon III’s polemical letter about I HAVE GOT in the Spring 1999 issue.
I was born in England, and came to the USA in 1951, at the age of 28. Although I had been accustomed since childhood to American movies, there was one U.S. usage that struck me very forcibly when I arrived in this country.
That was hearing someone ask a salesperson, for example, “Have you any (whatever)?”, or “Do you have any (whatever)?”
In the U.K., it was perfectly acceptible–in any social register–to say “Have you got any (whatever)?” From dukes to dustmen, all could say, without a blush, I HAVE GOT.
East Setauket, New York
I would like to show my appreciation for Harvey E. Finkel’s EPISTOLA about my “Bromides” that appeared in the Spring 1999 issue by attempting to assuage his “‘continuing distress at gratuitous and inelegant additions of up, as in “He heads up the corporation . . . ” and “. . . meet up with . . . ,” and “Up until . . .””
The addition of prepositions, either as prefixes, suffixes, or separately, to nuance or strengthen words, particularly verbs, is common practice in Indo-European languages. In the Slavic branch of those languages prefixing prepositions to indicate aspect and often meaning as well is an essential grammatical element. Although in English, except for many words derived from Latin and Greek such as contact, semantically redundant prepositional prefixes are unusual, the addition of unbound prepositions is extremely common. Consider get, get up, get in, get out, get on, get through, etc. In the examples of the addition of up that so distress Mr. Finkel meaning is less dependent on the preposition than in the get examples. His examples are more like, say, “Write down every word” where one senses that the preposition, while not essential to the meaning of the sentence, does add a perfective nuance.
To me the up in Harvey E. Finkel’s ‘’’He heads up the corporation . . . ” and in “. . . meet up with . . .” impart a perfective nuance rather similar to that added by a prefixed preposition in Russian (e. g. napisat’ ). In the first example the up implies that the position at the head of the corporation is news, an event, while in the second example the preposition tells us that the meeting was an unexpected single occurrence. The addition of up in both cases makes an occurrence of what without the addition would be a condition. Similarly in the third example, “Up until . . . ,” the preposition implies an event, here termination of a process or situation.
So let’s not be hasty in putting down the practice of nuancing words by adding up and other prepositions. Keep the practice up!
William H. Dougherty
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Complaints about No. 2: You gratuitously inserted an “n” in my name with my letter; you changed my middle initial to “N” (for these, my stationery is clear,however bad my writing–and the letter was typed!).
Finally, you really ought to reply to substantive, i.e. linguistic questions and protests (mine was about “for free”) with the letters. I’m sure readers would like to have your opinions, corrections, regrets,etc. In any case, you’re off to a good start.
David H. Spodick (NB: no “n”s)
[Thanks for thinking that readers want to hear my opinions. I’ll try to respond to letters when they seem to call for a response.–Ed.]
I thoroughly enjoyed your review of Paul Dickson’s Baseball Dictionary, however I was surprised to learn that at least two of his attributions differed from what I learned as a kid growing up in Philadelphia.
The term to describe the batter who is second in line behind the batter who “is on deck” is “in the hole” referring of course to the dugout where all remaining players must stay. It seems to me that the term “in the hole” is a more logical term to use. The term “in the hold” implies a detention cell of some sort.
The second item that caught my eye was the word “rhubarb”for an on-the-field argument or fracas. I indeed would call such an occurrence a “rhubarb,” however I believe its etymological source is carnivals where the shout, “Hey Rube”, was understood by carnival workers that there was trouble and their help was needed and to come arunnin’. Such disturbances came to be called rhubarbs. Perhaps some other reader could make a case for the source of the term as coming from the pitcher, Rube Marquard. Maybe Dickson’s book explains more about sources for these items and I’ll be enlightened.
[“In the hold” was, alas, a typographical error. Mr. Liddell is correct. It should read “in the hole.”–Ed.]
The article on Bowdlerism (XXIV/1) set me thinking. When I was young (long ago) in England, we talked of cocks and hens, and I should still refer to the cock bird–of any species. Chanticleer will never be a rooster. What do the mealy-mouthed call peacocks?
“Cock” or “old cock” was a familiar form of address to a man–still is, according to my trusty Chambers. I remember an advertisement for “7 o’clock”, a brand of razor blade, in which the punch line was “7 o’clock, cock!”
Another example of Bowdlerism. On my last trip to England, we were impressed by brilliant yellow fields of rape. Back in Oz, and presumably it is the same in the U.S., we found yellow fields of canola.
I further wonder what American mechanics call male and female machinery fittings. It would be difficult to describe them as clearly in other words.
Elizabeth, South Australia
Thank you for publishing the delightful column, “Word Words,” by Judge Jon Newman. (XXIII/4)
Alas, the good judge seems to have overlooked a word that is crucial to the development of words to describe words. Perhaps modestly, he has not accounted for those who create word words.
Those who dream up -onym words, likely losing sleep over the juste mot, deserve their own recognition. May I suggest that Judge Newman and other creators of word words be dubbed “insomnonymiacs.”
West Hartford, Connecticut